Cowon's latest flash MP3 player, the iAudio CW300, is hard not to like. From its sleek design to its included software, this elegant device delivers a smooth user experience ideal for those irritated by unintuitive interfaces. Like the before it, this superior model offers both comprehensive functionality and simple operation. Its whopping 512MB of memory is nonexpandable, but we don't see that as a problem. Listeners looking for a higher capacity probably need a hard drive-based MP3 player instead. Measuring 3.25 by 1.57 by 0.73 inches, the CW300 is one of the slimmest MP3 players you'll find. With the AA battery installed, the weight is a mere 2.33 ounces; that's slightly heavier than the older CW200, which uses a smaller AAA cell. The elegant, minimalist device features nothing extraneous; two inconspicuous jog dials on the top and bottom provide access to almost every function. The Record button's smart placement below the main controls safeguards against accidental activation. A Hold switch on the back offers further protection from jostling. Our only real design quibble is with the battery compartment's flip cover, which feels slightly fragile.
The menu structure is blissfully simple: just press the Menu button and scroll to the appropriate selection. However, the blue-backlit screen is somewhat dim, and the brightness isn't adjustable, although the contrast is.
The CW300 comes with a carrying case, a belt clip, an armband, and earbuds from either Cresyn or--for $10 more--Sennheiser. An optional in-line remote control without a display is available for $12. Populating the CW300 with MP3 files was a cinch. After we'd installed the included JetShell software, we used it to transfer songs into the CW300's four albums, which act as separate playlists--a quick, no-nonsense approach to categorization. The albums share the 512MB of nonexpandable memory, which holds about eight hours of music. If you don't need that much, opt for one of the step-down models, which come in and 256MB capacities.
Along with FM recording and playback, the CW300 offers voice recording; a microphone-sensitivity control lets you pick up quiet conversations. On the downside, the device saves in the proprietary SC4 format. JetShell can convert these SC4 clips to WAV and then MP3, but we prefer the way the iRiver avoids these extra steps by capturing FM broadcasts directly to the universally compatible MP3 format.
User-defined EQ and the Rock, Jazz, and Classical presets enable you to tweak the sound of your MP3 files. If you opted for the Cresyn earbuds (see the Design section), you'll probably want to increase the Dynamic Bass setting to boost the low-end frequencies.
With its extensive experience in software development, Cowon gave the CW300 several PC-based features not found on other devices. For instance, we like the ability to change EQ and especially FM presets through JetShell as well as via the player's interface. And JetVoiceMail lets you edit voice memos, apply 16 effects--including Reverb, Robot Voice, and Darth Vader (cool!)--and send the recordings through Outlook, Outlook Express, or Netscape Mail.
Although the CW300 does not natively support WMA files, JetShell can convert them to MP3 during song transfer. The process degrades audio quality slightly, so users with most or all of their music saved in WMA should opt for a player with native WMA support. If you have only a smattering of WMA files in your collection, JetShell's MP3-conversion results sound decent enough. Like its sibling, the CW200, the CW300 is an excellent performer delivering quality MP3 playback and voice recording. With an incredibly clean signal-to-noise ratio of 95dB, the sound is clearer than that of almost all other MP3 players. And although the power output is only 8mW per channel, we found the volume loud through full-size Koss headphones. Though the battery life fell well short of the rated 30 hours, the CW300 is still more efficient than most of its competitors, providing about 20 hours of playback on a single AA cell.
We loaded the unit's flash memory with 53.3MB of MP3 files in a scant 70 seconds for a speedy transfer rate of 0.76MB per second.